A Practical Guide to Customer Service Levels

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An eye-popping 94% of customers say that positive customer service experiences make them more likely to buy again. 

Improving your ecommerce customer service can have a strong impact on your brand reputation, customer retention, and revenue. But before you can improve your customer service quality, you need an objective way to measure it.

This is where customer service levels come in.

I’m Bri Christiano, the Director of Support for Gorgias, the customer service platform built for ecommerce brands. My team and I put together this guide to give you a better understanding of customer service levels and how they help you:

  • Measure your team’s performance objectively
  • Gauge how customers perceive the quality of your service
  • Set achievable customer service goals at the individual and team levels

What are customer service levels? 

Customer service levels measure the quality of service a company provides to customers.

There are a lot of factors that determine the level of service your team offers. To make things more concrete, we focused on the major elements of customer service, ordered from most to least important:

  • Response times: how fast you respond to messages
  • Resolution times: how quickly you fully resolve customer issues
  • Quality: how friendly, on-brand, and helpful your agents are
  • Accessibility (support channels): how easy your support team is to reach
  • Self-service: how many self-service resources you offer
  • Proactivity: whether your brand reaches out to visitors, and how meaningful they make those interactions
  • Delight: how you go above and beyond to create memorable customer experiences

Most businesses use five levels to gauge their customer service quality: unacceptable, below average, average, above average, and stellar. 

1. Unacceptable

At this level, the bare minimum of customer expectations isn’t being met. Think week-long delays for an email answer or hours of waiting for a call centre agent to pick up.

Most brands that offer unacceptable service look something like this:

  • Response times: Multiple days for email, and over 1 hour for live chat and other instant channels
  • Resolution times: Up to two weeks (for email) and several hours (for chat), or high rates of abandoned conversations before a resolution
  • Quality: Responses with errors that make the message difficult to interpret, and incorrect information about your products and policies
  • Accessibility (support channels): Only one channel (usually email)
  • Proactivity: None
  • Self-service resources: None

Unacceptable customer service can have devastating impacts on your store’s repeat purchase rate and brand reputation. Constantly drowning in tickets and dealing with frustrated customers can also stress out your support team.

Leveling up from unacceptable customer service can be done by:

  • Look at how many questions you receive (day by day, and hour by hour) and adjust the staff’s schedule to accommodate
  • Creating templates to help agents provide high-quality responses faster
  • Keeping a record of all past conversations, so agents don’t have to ask customers to repeat themselves
  • Building an FAQ page and order confirmation emails that answer very simple requests, like how to place a return

2. Below average

This level is a slight improvement because your team can resolve common issues.

However, customers still have to wait way too long for responses and resolutions, so this level also has a detrimental effect on your brand.

Below-average support teams typically have the following (or something similar):

  • Response times: Over 1 day for email and social, and 30-60 minutes for live chat
  • Resolution times: 1 or more business days
  • Quality: Tickets are easy to understand and consistently share accurate information about your products and policies, and you get mostly 3s and above on CSAT surveys
  • Support channels: 1-2 channels (Email and chat, or social media if it makes sense for your business)
  • Proactivity: Have a small library of templates ready for common situations and create more as needed
  • Self-service resources: A simple FAQ page somewhere on your website or app 

To move into average territory, you’ll need to:

  • Start analising your ticket volume to staff channels correctly
  • Build self-service resources for questions your brand gets, beyond obvious ones like shipping and returns
  • Invest in quality via onboarding and training so agents can handle basic questions with accuracy and ease, and escalate complex questions if needed

You’ll also need to expand your presence across channels, so customers have an easy way to reach you beyond email and live chat or social.

3. Average

At this point, you’re meeting customers’ needs consistently. You’re easy to reach and respond in a reasonable timeframe.

Your team can identify trends in tickets and pass along that customer feedback to other departments. Plus, you establish and regularly check metric-driven goals (around speed and quality) for your team.

  • Response times: 12-24 hours for email and social media, and 10 minutes for chat
  • Resolution times: Reasonably fast thanks to templates and basic automations for common questions
  • Quality: Consistent 4s and 5s on CSAT surveys, regularly train agents, and have a clear internal definition of a high-quality ticket
  • Support channels: 2 channels (likely chat and email)
  • Proactivity: Inform customers about upcoming issues and special occasions (via banners on your website and emails)
  • Self-service resources: Detailed FAQ pages where customers can get info about shipping, returns and refunds, exchanges, and more; including FAQs in the product experience (whether that’s in-app, or in the product packaging)

Brands at this level can try to move higher up by:

  • Creating brand loyalty programs
  • Having clear, customer-first policies (like making refund exceptions for VIP customers)

4. Above average

Above average service means you consistently satisfy customers’ demands and even exceed their expectations.

You leverage automation to help customers as quickly as possible, to spend more time improving your customer experience with bigger projects than just resolving tickets.

For instance, you use proactive customer service to address issues before they affect shoppers

At this point, your customer service team is a well-oiled machine: You consistently report on performance metrics, conduct ongoing training, and optimise wherever possible.

Your service creates a memorable experience and is part of your brand’s competitive advantage.

  • Response times: Under 4 hours for email and social, and under 5 minutes for chat, SMS, and phone
  • Resolution times: Fast thanks to a variety of templates, advanced automations, and experience with handling all kinds of issues
  • Quality: Accurate information clearly delivered, with consistently on-brand voice, and an average CSAT score of 4.8 or above
  • Support channels: Offer all channels that make sense for your business (likely including chat, email, social media channels, phone, SMS, and WhatsApp)
  • Proactivity: Reaching out to customers via chat and informing customers about how to enhance their experience (usually through upselling or cross-selling)
  • Self-service resources: Everything mentioned above, more advanced tools like automated order trackers, and starting to work with other teams (like your website and product team) to quickly fix systemic problems at the root

Customer service teams at this level are already well above the average team — so don’t feel bad if you’re not at this level.

Moving to the “Stellar” level requires a shift in your goals from just meeting demands to further optimising processes and delighting customers with:

  • Regular reporting on holistic metrics, as well as variances. (For instance, if you have an average first-response time of 3 minutes but it jumps to 10 minutes overnight, you’ll catch that and staff accordingly.)
  • Personalised welcome videos
  • Hand-written notes for VIP customers
  • Celebrating milestones, like birthdays and anniversaries with special gifts

5. Stellar

Here, you’re in a league of your own. Your business is known for its exceptional customer service, which helps attract higher-paying shoppers, retain them longer, and drive customer loyalty.

  • Response times: Under 1 hour for email, under 15 minutes for social media, and under 1 minute for real-time channels like live chat or SMS
  • Resolution times: Very fast thanks to a variety of templates, advanced automations, and experience with handling all kinds of issues
  • Quality: You consistently score 5s on CSAT surveys and have a consistently high internal quality score
  • Accessibility (support channels): You offer all channels that make sense for your business (likely including chat, email, social media channels, phone, SMS, and WhatsApp), available 24/7
  • Proactivity: You anticipate common customer issues and provide answers before they become questions, through educational product experiences and 1:1 notifications about upcoming issues 
  • Self-service resources: Robust FAQ pages, help centres, and automated self-service handle a majority of questions, and your policies and product experiences are clear enough to proactively educate customers
  • Surprise and delight: Personalised experiences that go above-and-beyond (like writing handwritten notes or reaching out to customers on birthdays)

And your customers can use self-service resources for most interactions, so they only reach out to your team for complex issues. 

Note, however, that aiming for surprise-and-delight before you can consistently offer fast, low-effort service tends to backfire. While focusing on customer delight is the cherry on top; easy, fast service is the hot fudge sundae. 

How to measure customer service quality (7 essential KPIs)

There isn’t a universal way to measure customer service levels. That’s why most ecommerce brands use a combination of key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine their service quality.

In this section, we’ll discuss eight of these KPIs that pretty much any ecommerce retailer can use.

Note: A good helpdesk or phone system can help track your call metrics and response times and make it easier to improve them.

1. First and average response times

First response time (FRT) measures how long it takes for your agents to reply to the first message sent by a customer. 

Average response time (ART) is the sum of all response times for a specific period divided by the total number of tickets during that time frame.

Slow responses are a surefire way to annoy customers, so it’s paramount to keep your FRT and average response times as low as possible. 

Response times will — and should — vary by channel. Customers messaging on live chat expect a response in seconds, so you should prioritize those tickets.

Email and other slower channels can wait. In general, email tickets should be answered within a day, while real-time channels (live chat, SMS, etc.) should get responses in a few minutes or less. 

Average response time is calculated by dividing the total amount of time spent responding to tickets by the total number of tickets during the same period.

Source: Gorgias

You can improve response times by:

  • Creating template responses for your agents
  • Using automation to acknowledge or even resolve queries instantly
  • Bringing conversations from all channels into one feed with a helpdesk, so your agents don’t waste time switching between tabs and key information doesn’t fall through the cracks

For a detailed look at this metric, check out this guide to lowering average response times.

2. Average resolution time

Average resolution time (ART) is the time customers spend interacting with your business before their issue is resolved.

The longer your ART, the more time your customers have to wait or go back and forth with your team. This can lead to a frustrating customer experience and prevent shoppers from buying from your store again.

This KPI is calculated by dividing the total resolution time for a given period by the number of closed tickets for that same period.

Source: Gorgias

Three of the best ways to improve this KPI are:

  1. Automating common queries, like “What’s your shipping policy?”, “How can I return an item?”, or “What’s my order status?”
  2. Keeping a record of all customer information — address, payment info, recent orders, etc — across all tools. That way, you don’t have to ask customers for details they’ve already given you and your agents have all relevant context in one place
  3. Integrating your customer support tool with your online store, so agents can make changes (e.g., refund an order) while answering tickets, without having to switch tools

Check out this guide to resolution time for more details on ART and how to improve it.

3. Customer self-service rate

Customer self-service rate is the percentage of tickets that customers resolve without needing help from your agents. Self-service can include:

A high self-service rate shows that your website and automations make it easy for customers to answer common questions themselves.

The formula for calculating this metric is:

Self-Service Rate = Tickets that Customers Resolved Without Live Agent Support / Total Number of Tickets for Same Period x 100

Creating the resources from the bullets above is the first step toward a better self-service rate. You can optimise the performance of these resources by:

  • Regularly reviewing support tickets, finding common questions, and creating new self-service resources
  • Linking them in your site’s header, support and order confirmation emails, and other highly-visible places

4. One-touch resolution rate

One-touch resolution rate is the percentage of tickets that were resolved with a single reply from your team.

When more tickets get resolved with one interaction, your customers and agents are both happier because they don’t have to go back and forth.

Here’s the formula for this KPI:

One-Touch Resolution Rate = Tickets Were Resolved with One Reply / Total Number of Tickets for Same Period x 100

A high one-touch resolution rate is achieved by:

  • Giving agents easy access to the necessary data. Think order history, past conversations, shipping addresses, and payment info. When agents have this information in one place, there’s less risk of missing relevant details when resolving tickets.
  • Training agents to write clear and detailed answers. A great answer fully resolves the customer’s question and anticipates any follow-up concerns. This is the practice of forward resolution, and it’s key to boosting one-touch resolution rate.

5. Customer service abandonment rate

Customer service abandonment rate is the percentage of customer interactions that were abandoned before the issue was resolved.

Abandonments are generally a sign of customer frustration — it’s not always the case, but sometimes conversation abandonment means the customer decided to return the product or give up on your brand rather than pursue a resolution. 

Here’s the formula for this KPI:

Customer Service Abandonment Rate = Customer Service Interactions that Were Abandoned / Total Number of Interactions for Same Period x 100

The best ways to keep abandonments low are:

  • Speeding up response times. The longer customers have to wait, the higher the chance they’ll abandon the interaction.
  • Having agents write better answers. Ambiguous answers can make customers feel like your team can’t help them, causing them to stop responding.

6. Customer satisfaction (CSAT surveys)

Customer satisfaction (CSAT) is the base level of satisfaction buyers feel regarding their experience with your brand. 

A high CSAT score shows that customers are happy with the quality of service they received. Low scores show frustration and can be a leading indicator of non-repeat customers or, for subscription-based companies, customer churn.

To calculate this KPI, you need to ask customers “How would you rate the help [Agent] gave you?” and let them answer with numbers between one and five. Then, take the number of 4 and 5-star responses, divide it by the total number of responses, and multiply by 100 to get your CSAT score.

Source: Gorgias

To get reliable responses and improve your CSAT scores, make sure to:

  • Send CSAT surveys immediately after customer service interactions
  • Add visual elements to surveys like buttons, stars, and images.

While CSAT is a great metric, you can’t guarantee customers will respond to your CSAT surveys. So, consider also instituting an internal quality score and regularly reviewing tickets as a team to make sure customer interactions are up to your internal standards. 

For more proven tactics, check out these 9 ways to improve CSAT score and response rate.

7. Customer retention rate

Retention rate is the percentage of customers who remain customers (i.e., don’t churn) over a given period. 

This KPI is the business results of quality — including product, shopping experience, and customer service — unlike most of the other KPIs we looked at, which are leading indicators.

For subscription companies, retention rate is the percentage of people who continue to pay for their subscription over a given period. 

For non-subscription businesses, retention is the percentage of customers who come back for a second (or third and fourth) purchase over a period.

For example, say you had 350 customers at the start of the year, 300 at the end, and 76 acquired during the year. Your ecommerce retention rate can be calculated like this:

[(300 – 76) / 350] * 100 = 64%

It’s also worth noting that this KPI can be affected by many factors outside of customer service, like shipping delays, bad packaging, and other fulfilment experience issues.

How to improve customer service satisfaction

Now that you know how to measure customer service levels, let’s look at some top tactics to move up the ladder. We separated the tips into two categories:

  1. Customer service traits to instill in your team through new hire onboarding (and training, especially around new launches, new launches, and when your agents get stuck)
  2. Systems to set up to provide excellent customer service

Top customer service standards and traits to instill in your team

First, you need to establish high-level traits (or standards) that your team should aspire to. Your customer service policy is a good place to write these out, so everyone is familiar with expectations from day one.

Speed

A slow first response will leave customers with a bad impression, even if you eventually solve their problem. The same goes for slow resolution times, even if your FRT is fast. 

Setting clear service-level agreements (SLAs) and regularly measuring your team’s performance against them is the best way to instill the value of speed.

Friendliness

Friendliness is about ensuring your customer service agents are pleasant and welcoming when interacting with customers, but it should also tie into your company’s unique voice and tone. 

Consider creating a list of phrases that your agent should and shouldn’t use to sound friendly, and building a library of helpful templates (also called Macros). If you’re not sure where to start, check out these 15 customer service phrases.

Accuracy and attention to detail

Providing accurate answers is just as important as responding quickly. That’s why you should train agents to do the following for every incoming query:

  • Read or listen to it carefully and assess the customer’s issue in full
  • Check your policies and guidelines, especially if they’re not sure how to respond
  • Answer the question, resolve the issue, and provide customers with information about the next steps

Giving agents access to the necessary context — like the customer’s purchase history, shipping addresses, and payment methods — makes this much easier.

Transparency and honesty

Customer service isn’t just answering questions. It’s also about creating a sense of brand credibility and reliability.

Even one misstep can undermine the trust you’ve built with a customer over years. That’s why your team should be instructed to give honest responses to customer queries, even if your company made a mistake.

It’s much easier to admit an error and compensate for it than to win back customers who don’t trust you.

Proven ways to improve the quality of your customer service 

Once you establish high-level customer service traits in your team, it’s time to implement larger systems to scale up your service.

Accessibility 

Accessibility is giving customers different ways to reach you or resolve their inquiries themselves.

This is done by:

  • Making self-service resources easy to find on your site
  • Implementing omnichannel customer service, so customers can contact you via their preferred touchpoint (email, live chat, social media, SMS, etc.)
  • Giving customers an alternative way to contact you if your team isn’t online right now (e.g., email instead of live chat during off-hours) 

Analyse tickets and collect customer feedback

Ticket analysis and regular surveys are essential to improving your customer service quality over time. It can help you get to the root cause of common complaints.

Customer complaints can stem from slow response times or resolution times, confusing answers, or other customer service mistakes. However, many post-purchase issues also result in customer service tickets, like:

  • Shipping delays
  • Products sent to wrong addresses
  • Wrong products shipped to customers

These mishaps often point to issues with the order fulfilment process. If that’s the case for your store, an order management system can help you reduce human errors and automate manual fulfilment tasks.

Set the right incentives for your customer service team

Incentives are key to creating win-win workplace relationships. 

To get incentives right, you first need to identify customer service areas (and KPIs) for improvement, like.

  • Initial response times (FRT)
  • Problem resolution times (ART)
  • Satisfaction after customer support interactions (CSAT)

Then, you establish benchmarks and select adequate rewards for reaching them. Companies often use both individual and team rewards, like:

  • Extra days off or gift cards for agents with the highest CSAT scores
  • Quarterly bonuses for the entire team if they keep average FRT and resolution times low

This is a detailed topic, so check out this article on customer service incentives to get a more nuanced understanding.

Consider outsourcing customer service and other time-consuming activities

Many ecommerce processes become difficult to maintain when orders and customers start growing. This is often the case for customer service because you have to hire, train, and monitor more agents as you scale.

That’s why many ecommerce business owners outsource it to third-party service providers.

Outsourcing customer service can save you tons of time and effort, provided you find a partner with proven expertise in organising customer support teams.

However, customer service isn’t the only activity you can outsource.

The fulfilment process also gets really complicated at scale. Outsourcing to an omnichannel fulfilment provider is a great way to reduce your workload and optimise order cycle time, so you have fewer repetitive tickets and more time to provide stellar customer service. 

For example, a reliable, a third-party fulfilment solution like ShipBob can:

  • Store and manage your inventory within a network of fulfilment centres
  • Pick and pack orders soon after customer information has been verified
  • Package and ship them to its destination through the most optimised route

Take a strategic approach to customer service with helpdesk software

Helpdesk software lets teams collaborate when managing, organising, responding to, and reporting on customer tickets. 

These tools range from simple ticketing systems to all-in-one customer service platforms with features for self-service, automation, revenue generation, and reporting.

A modern helpdesk like Gorgias can help you speed up response times, improve customer satisfaction, and drive revenue by:

  • Using automation to give customers instant answers to common questions (which also frees up agents to focus on high-impact tickets)
  • Prioritizing, tagging, and assigning tickets, instead of tackling them on a first-come, first-served basis
  • Bringing all customer service channels into a single view for your agents, so they don’t have to constantly switch tabs 
  • Keeping all customer data in front of your agents, including data from other ecommerce tools like ShipBob, Klaviyo, and Shopify, so they can easily find and include customer information when handling inquiries 
  • Analising tickets and monitoring agents’ performance, so you can continuously find and fix root causes.

To dive deeper into these topics, check out this guide: What Is a Helpdesk, Why You Need One, and Features To Look For.

How can partnering with a 3PL increase customer satisfaction?

Believe it or not, your fulfilment can play into your customers’ satisfaction with your business. If you have a long order cycle time, if your shipping costs are high, or you can’t provide updates about where packages are in the fulfilment process, customers will likely be disappointed with their experience with your brand. If any of those challenges are true for your business, it might be time to consider utilising a fulfilment provider.

By partnering with a reliable fulfilment partner like ShipBob, you can leverage our ability to quickly pick, pack, and ship orders so customers aren’t left waiting longer than necessary for their packages to arrive.

“Since switching to ShipBob from other 3PLs, our overall customer rating has been climbing steadily to get closer to our previous nearly perfect 5/5 rating, I believe largely due to improved shipping performance and service levels provided by ShipBob.”

– Mithu Kuna, Founder and CEO of Baby Doppler 

ShipBob has a direct integration with Gorgias which allows you to seamlessly manage fulfilment, as well as customer experience. With our integration and ShipBob’s best-in-class analytics and reporting, you can see real-time data about where orders are in the fulfilment process and provide customers with accurate updates when WISMO questions arise.

Customer service levels FAQs

Here are common FAQs related to ecommerce customer service levels.

What are the 5 levels of customer service?

The five levels of customer service are:

  1. Unacceptable
  2. Below average
  3. Average
  4. Above average
  5. Stellar

The best way to reach good customer service (i.e., average or above average levels) is by giving customers instant responses to common questions, resolving their issues fast, and pointing them to relevant self-service resources.

Reaching the “Stellar” level requires more personalised tactics, like personalisation, hand-written letters, and rewards for VIP customers.

How do you determine customer service level?

You can determine your customer service level with a combination of metrics like first response time, average resolution time, and CSAT scores. 

What is ecommerce customer service?

Ecommerce customer service is the combination of customer support agents and self-service resources that help shoppers during their journey on your online store — from the pre-purchase phase to deliveries, returns, refunds, and exchanges.

Providing great customer service is a big competitive advantage, as it boosts customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and repeat purchases.

Order fulfillment services

You omnichannel fulfillment partner that's an extension of your brand, from unboxings to 2-day shipping.

Warehouse management

Have your own warehouse? Get ShipBob WMS to reduce mis-picks, save time, and improve productivity.

Global scalability

Grow into new geographies with ShipBob's international presence in the US, UK, EU, Canada, and Australia.

Written By:

Bri Cristiano is the Director of Support for Gorgias, the customer service platform for ecommerce brands.

Read all posts written by Bri Cristiano